Several items caught my attention following the Wednesday night game between the Cowboys and Giants. As I ruminated over all of the information presented surrounding the game, a common thread became evident.
The Cowboys adapted successfully to the Giants' relative strengths and strategies, but New York did not change effectively to combat what Dallas was doing well.
Dallas chose to prevent the interior of the New York defensive line from collapsing the pocket by providing extra help to the guards and center. Rafael Vela touched upon this Saturday (http://www.cowboysnation.com/2012/09/cowboys-in-review-cant-keep-legend-down.html).
By employing these strategies, the Cowboys were vulnerable to the powerful Giants defensive ends lining up in an approximated 9-technique and providing pressure on Romo. It would seem that the strategy Dallas chose to execute would play into the strength of the New York pass rush.
The Giants have traditionally wreaked havoc upon the Cowboys protection schemes by stunting and blitzing up the middle. As a matter of fact, immediately following Romo's interception, Collinsworth divulged that the Giants felt that most of Romo's poor decisions occurred when he was pressured up the middle.
The Cowboys chose to minimize the impact of the Giants push up the middle by allocating extra linemen to the interior pass protection. The relative strength of the Cowboys offensive line is the offensive tackles. Tony Romo is most dangerous when he can evade the rush and buy time to take advantage of the mismatches existent downfield.
Furthermore, the Cowboys repeatedly created mismatches by spreading the Giants defense from 11 personnel (1 running back and 1 tight end). The Giants were so cognizant of Jason Witten that he often drew the safety over the top in coverage (Mr. Vela also touched upon this and cited specific examples in the same article highlighted above).
Since Austin and Bryant lined up on the other side of the field, the Giants frequently shifted their coverage to have three defensive backs covering the two Cowboys big play receivers. The Giants never came off of Witten, however, leaving Ogletree one on one against an inferior defensive back throughout the game.
Even as Ogletree made plays, the Giants stubbornly stayed with their original strategy. It was as if Coughlin and his coaching staff refused to alter their game plan in the face of defeat. Following the game, Coughlin noted that it was as if his defensive backs had never seen a slant. Oddly enough, it seemed that this was more of a problem associated with poor strategy and a lack of adapting to what Dallas was doing, but Coughlin blamed the cornerbacks. I wonder how that will go over in the locker room?
Defensively, the Cowboys did not send an extra man to pressure Eli most of the game. When Dallas did blitz, however, Manning and the Giants' offense struggled. While Rob Ryan disguised his defense expertly throughout the game, the Giants failed to adapt the play calling to take advantage of the blitzes.
The Giants threw short passes to counteract the Cowboys pressure. Even when Dallas held a 14 point lead late in the fourth quarter, Eli struggled to throw the ball downfield. Here is the breakdown of Manning's passes:
First quarter: 7 short passes, 2 downfield passes
Second quarter: 4 short passes, 1 downfield pass
Third quarter: 5 short passes, 1 downfield pass
Fourth quarter: 10 short passes, 2 downfield passes
Dallas wanted to keep the Giants offense from throwing the ball deep and getting big plays. The Giants did almost nothing to take advantage of the Cowboys shell coverage. In fact, Eli posted atypically low yards per pass attempt: 6.7 yards.
From my viewpoint, the Cowboys had a superior game plan and executed it well. Dallas' coaches made some adjustments to attack the weaknesses of the Giants, but New York did little in response to what the Cowboys were doing.
Of course, it could also be that the Cowboys now have better personnel able to consistently take advantage of the match-ups in their favor. Since it is probably a little of both: better coaching and better players, I am looking forward to seeing how this season progresses.